New talk series encourages bold career moves, more spunk

Summary

A new Ghent lecture series works to inspire young people to venture off the beaten career path

Lifting taboos

A low tolerance for risk seems to be somewhat of a leitmotif in Flanders when it comes to career choices and moves. Secondary school graduates are, for instance, often counselled by their parents and relatives to set their sights on a stable nine-to-five, and entrepreneurship rates remain low compared to countries like the UK and the US.

Mathijs Vonckx and Patrice Boone, the pair behind the new Ghent-based talk series Motivay, want to encourage people to step off the beaten career track. The Ghent entrepreneurs have both charted extraordinary paths themselves.

In 2012, Boone founded the Eddie Clothing streetwear label while still a student in digital media at Gent University College. He subsequently decided to switch to marketing studies instead and eventually became a successful digital marketer.

Meanwhile, his friend Vonckx took a break from studying political science at Ghent University to found two non-profits, which in turn inspired him to pursue a legal degree. 

Not just dreams

Motivay, which invites young entrepreneurs with unusual career paths to tell their stories on stage, was born when the two started brainstorming about organising an event that could respond to the needs of today’s generation. A glance back at their own careers sufficed to settle on their focus – lifting professional taboos.

“At 18, we were supposed to know what our futures would look like,” says Vonckx, now 32. But that wasn’t the case for them, he says, “and it isn’t the case for most 18-year-olds. Still, most follow through because of expectations. People similarly refrain from starting a business because they think they need a diploma.”

Most things people think are impossible are maybe not that hard to achieve

- Mathijs Vonckx of Motivay

Vonckx notes that people quickly abandon thoughts of pursuing careers in acting and singing because they aren’t seen as ‘real’ careers. “By presenting the stories of people who didn’t follow the beaten path or who succeeded in realising their dreams, we want to prevent such things from happening,” he says.

But they aren’t out to encourage naïve proposals, he insists, rather to stress feasibility. “At the same time, we want to show that most things people think are impossible are maybe not that hard to achieve.”

Motivay held its maiden event at the Backstay Hostel in Ghent last week. Focused on the theme of studying and entrepreneurship, three entrepreneurs with possibly even more unusual stories than Vonckx and Boone took the stage. 

Worth the effort

Laura Verhulst, a 23-year-old literature student, is the brainchild behind Madam Bakster, a bakery that offers “guilt-free” pastries and sweets that do not contain refined sugar, artificial sweeteners or animal products. Bertony da Silva, meanwhile, told the story of how he converted his hobby of creating T-shirts into the breakout clothing label Arte and opened his first physical shop in Antwerp last year.

Finally, Angelo Medagoda, a former management student shared what led him to found Friends and Fools, a company that offers people unique and luxurious travel experiences such as dining on a raft in the middle of a lake or spending the night in a treehouse. 

Now is the time: You’re too young for anyone to blame you if things don’t go as planned

- Entrepreneur Angelo Medagoda

Medagoda, 24, says he would never tell anyone that launching a business while still in school is an easy thing to do. “It’s rather the opposite; I needed to drop out temporarily in the middle of exams,” he says. “I was combing the Netherlands for a raft that fitted my needs, while spending the rest of my days getting the paperwork done for the start-up of the firm." 

It was a time of long days and short nights, but he says it was all worth it. “By presenting my story to an audience, I want to spread the message that there’s nothing wrong with taking risks at this age. Now is the time: you’re too young for anyone to blame you when things don’t go as planned.”

Medagoda still runs Friends and Fools but is also back in school with one year left until graduation.

A warm nest

Vonckx and Boone aim to organise one Motivay event every two months, with each lecture centred on breaking deeply ingrained taboos about careers and tickets priced at €8. The next talk, which should take place in May, will focus on experiences abroad and their potential to enrich a person’s private and professional life.

“A sabbatical in which you travel the world for one year right after secondary school is still highly underrated,” says Vonckx, “but it is proven to have a profound impact on one’s understanding of self and, hence, the choices you will make. That same night, we will also give the stage over to people with international jobs: a documentary filmmaker, a war photographer and a traveling DJ.”

The event after that, in July, will centre on careers that are often considered hobbies, like singing, acting and playing music.

With a dedicated website and the talks, Vonckx and Boone hope to establish a community of people who think alike. “Keeping in mind that today’s careers will be about adjusting, learning new things and heading in new directions, we want to form a network of like-minded people,” says Vonckx. “We want to offer a warm nest for the hatching of new entrepreneurs.”

Photo: An entrepreneur takes the stage at Motivay’s inaugural event earlier this month
©Motivay